GEORGES LENTZ - composer / sound artist
Caeli enarrant III
Cobar Sound Chapel
About 'Jerusalem (after Blake)'
from 'Mysterium' ("Caeli enarrant..." VII)
for orchestra and electronics (including 7 smartphones) (2011-2016)
Jerusalem (after Blake) was inspired by the poetry and visual art of William Blake (1757-1827), that great visionary of English Romantic literature who remained completely misunderstood and ignored by his contemporaries and only gained recognition one hundred years after his death, in no small part due to the advocacy of 20th century writers such as W. B. Yeats and Aldous Huxley. Today of course, Blake is a classic of English literature and widely regarded as one of the strangest, greatest writers of his time.
For several years now I have been reading (and trying to understand!) Blake’s so-called Prophetic Books. These are difficult works that abound in surreal visions in both words and images. Blake, a trained graphic artist, illustrated the books himself with the help of a printing technique of his own invention. Blake’s pictorial worlds, with their multitudes of bleak fiery landscapes, starry night skies, ominous cathedrals, heavenly gates, their hosts of sinister angels, interwoven muscular bodies, distorted faces, monsters, wavy robes, hair manes etc. etc. are stylistically far ahead of the artist's time, or at least very hard to anchor within it. Some elements are reminiscent of the dark world of the Spanish artist Goya, others of Art Nouveau, even early Picasso! Blake’s accompanying poetry is every bit as overwhelming in its mighty visionary language. “Jerusalem. The Emanation of the Giant Albion” (1804-1820), the author’s last, longest and perhaps most extraordinary book is a high point in both his literary and visual oeuvre and is the book that, above all others, I have been reading for years now. I admit that my success in comprehending Blake is still rather limited, but my fascination is undiminished. (Note: this poem is not to be confused with the hymn “And did those feet in ancient time / Walk upon England's mountains green”, also known as ‘Jerusalem’, also by Blake, but unrelated).
It would be easy of course to dismiss Blake’s "Jerusalem. The Emanation of the Giant Albion" as the self-absorbed ravings of a lunatic cut off from the real world – and considered in a purely literal way, it may well be just that. Nonetheless, to my mind nothing could be further from the essence of Blake’s vision! Blake writes about the Fall of Man, the End of the World, the Apocalypse - all very old-fashioned concepts, one might think, with no relevance whatsoever to our world today. But how about our own world? Is it really so much more sane? A world in which planes intentionally crash into skyscrapers and innocent people are beheaded to avenge a madly twisted idea of God, in which despite the threat of climate catastrophe we keep steering cheerfully towards the abyss, a world in which democracy, truth, decency and compassion are trumped by cruelty, lying, stupidity and bigotry, a world in which artificial intelligence is in the process of re-defining what it means to be human and might threaten humanity's very survival - if that is our world, then might it not seem reasonable to assert that we too live in somewhat apocalyptic times? For Blake, ‘Jerusalem’, like so many things in his work, is a multi-layered concept: it is at once the Heavenly City, man’s final goal, but it is also our own terrestrial world. Considered in the word’s latter meaning, we might do well to heed the poet’s warning when he exclaims: “Awake! Awake Jerusalem!”
I dedicate the end of Jerusalem (after Blake) to the victims of another plane tragedy that occurred while I was writing the piece – that ill-fated flight MH370, which on March 8, 2014 disappeared off the radar without a trace and probably crashed into the Indian ocean, for some mysterious reason thousands of miles from its destination. A lilting barcarole (Venetian gondolier's song) briefly evokes gently lapping waves, only to be suddenly disrupted in its harmlessness by an altogether more sinister aspect of water: a violent crash, human bodies at the bottom of the ocean... When people in the towers of New York made their frantic final phone calls, the world heard the desperate human side of the apocalypse. There were no calls from the passengers of the MH 370. What happened in those final moments? I’d like to think that the concluding sounds of my piece (soft, tinny brass sounds played via mobile phones from the back of the hall) might represent those phone calls that never were – a brief elegy to those who disappeared. There is no certainty of course that the MH370 incident was an act of terrorism. Nonetheless, the possibility remains and its tragic mystery haunts me. Therefore, and by extension, I'd like to dedicate Jerusalem (after Blake) to the memory of all victims of violence, madness, fanaticism, stupidity and hatred.
Georges Lentz 2016
(The brass sounds which form the basis of the electronic sounds accompanying the piece were recorded in October 2014 by members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s brass section and are used with their kind permission.)